How do you find it when you teach games to children? Does everyone stay calm and enjoy the game or do tempers rise and you barely start before someone refuses to keep playing? I’ve been in the latter; yes both the teacher and the one refusing to play! Over the last few years I’ve paid close attention to how people teach games to children and collated the most effective techniques I’ve tried.
Before starting, the most important thing to remember is playing board games is meant to be fun. So if tempers do start rising, take a moment to work out what is going on. Are the children tired or hungry? Are they feeling overwhelmed due to the number of components? Don’t push them to play when they’re not in the mood, focus on building a feeling of enthusiasm and curiosity, so they’re keen to come back.
1. Choose games that are going to be of interest to your children
To make it easier to get your children to listen pick games you think will interest them (even if it doesn’t interest you). Look out for games they’ve asked to play, ones with mechanisms they’ve enjoyed or themes they’re interested in.
Read my post: How to choose awesome board games for kids
2. Learn the rules first
Before you start teaching your children make sure you’re comfortable with the rules. This will make you calmer, the teaching clearer and the duration shorter.
There are several ways you can learn the rules, and you may want to do several of them:
- read the instructions
- watch some online tutorials
- do a walk through on your own
- play with other adults
- play the game on an app or online platform
As you’re playing the game, think about how you’re going to teach it your children. Can you break it into stages or introduce rules based on other games they’ve played. As they play more games and build up a library of game knowledge it will be easier to explain rules as you’ll be able to compare it to other games e.g. we’re all going to do our actions at the same time as in Telestrations (gifted review).
If you teach it in phases start with what they need to know at the beginning and when they’re ready teach them the next phase. Depending on your children you may want to let them know there is another phase and you’ll teach it when it becomes relevant. This could prevent them accusing you of cheating by not teaching all the rules! Some games take this approach in their instructions, for example Magic Maze* starts simple and you can work through scenarios to learn more complex rules.
3. Get them excited about the game
Get them excited about the trying the game. Depending on their age you could try different methods such as showing them pictures on the box, comparing it to other games they enjoy, showing them a video and letting them watch you play it and possibly joining in for example holding your cards or moving your pieces on the board.
4. Let them play with the components
If they show an interest in the components them play with them their way. This will help their familiarity with the components when you start teaching them the game, but may reduce them wandering into their imagination.
They may want to create their own rules with the components. Join in and listen to them. You don’t know they may get some of them close to the actual games. Encourage them with questions, what do you think this could be used for? Which side of the cards you do think is more interesting? Which is your favourite piece?
5. Listen to them
Listening to your children goes through each of these steps. By listening, and observing, you’ll learn more about what games, mechanisms and themes interest them. It is particularly relevant when teaching a game because you’ll pick up whether they’re confused or ready to stop before the temper or sulks appear.
They may also talk to you about games when you’re not playing them, and it is important to listen then as well. It could be as simple as asking to play a game, or they may be confused about something in the game, and want to discuss it.
6. Introduce the game
Start by talking about the game. Think back to how they played with the components themselves, can you relate this to the actual rules; if so this will help them remember how to play and could boost their confidence.
- Explain the objective, how you win and lose e.g. you’re trying to get as many points as you can
- Make sure they understand key terms e.g. draw a card, take your turn
- Introduce the game pieces
- Explain the board — are there any special areas, do they need to know what graphics or writing means
- Move around the board or take a move with cards without playing
- Repeat the objective and give examples of how you can work towards it e.g. there are three different ways you can earn points
- Introduce other rules, as far as you think your children are ready, for example what order will people take turns, can other people move your pieces or take your cards, how will you reach the end of the game.
7. Have a practice run
Do a run through together, where everyone knows it is just a test. Depending on the nature of there are different things you can do to help embed the rules during the run through. For example if it involves cards have all the hands on display, before someone takes their turn discuss what they’re thinking of doing. With simultaneous action games you can do them individually so people can see what is happening.
It is important to ask your children when they’re comfortable to play on their own. They may learn a game very quickly and your practice run may only be a part game, or they may want to do a second or third practice if the game is complex. Don’t rush them.
8. Independent play
When you start playing the game properly, set it up before you ask them to join you. This will reduce the chances of them getting bored too quickly. In the future, you can ask them to help you set it up, perhaps discussing different components or giving them responsibility for certain tasks.
It is unlikely they will remember all the rules straight away, so plan how you will respond to questions. Prompts are a good method, such as pointing to a deck of cards or asking if anything special happens with that dice roll. Research has shown children learn to play games better if prompts are kept to a minimum and only used when they need them, instead of with each action.
Remember to praise them, when they remember a tricky action, or they’re trying a new strategy. These skills are much more valuable than luck based activities such as rolling double 6.
When your children are young or you’re trying a long game for the first time remember it is okay to play a part game because it is important to stop when people are having fun. If you’re not sure how long the game will take you could start with a limit such as 30 minutes or 20 points and when you reach it, ask if people want to continue.
When you teach games to children, remember to focus on fun. This may mean the game you play is shorter and has different rules than the designer intended, but trust me they won’t mind. It is much more important to teach children that games are fun. Once your children are asking to play games with you, there will lots of time to teach them the “correct” rules.
And if you doubt your ability to teach them game you could find someone else to do it for you. Perhaps a passionate friend or professionals at a board game cafe.